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How wildfire risk is related to urban planning and Fire Weather Index in SE France (1990–2013)

D. M. Fox, P. Carrega, Y. Ren, P. Caillouet, C. Bouillon, S. Robert

Land use planning in SE France led to increased housing density in 1990-2012 and maintained WUI wildfire risk constant.
The number of buildings increased by 30% but WUI area increased by less than 5% as housing density increased.
Fire frequency and burned area increase substantially as Fire Weather Index surpasses a threshold value of 90.

Abstract. Wildfires burn > 450,000 ha of forest every year in Euro-Mediterranean countries. Many fires originate in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) where housing density and weather conditions affect fire occurrence. Housing density is determined by long term land use policies while weather conditions evolve quickly. The first objective was to quantify the impacts of land use policy on WUI characteristics and fire risk in SE France during 1990–2012. The second objective was to quantify how Fire Weather Index (FWI) is related to fire occurrence. WUI was mapped from 1990, 1999, and 2012 building layers and crossed with a NDVI derived vegetation layer. In all, 12 WUI categories were derived: 4 building density classes and 3 vegetation layers. The I87 FWI was based on daily temperature, wind speed, relative humidity and soil water content. Despite a 30% increase in the number of new buildings, WUI area increased by only 5% as new housing filled in open space in existing WUI area. This trend can be linked to national level urban planning legislation and forest fire protection laws. Major driver variables determining housing location were aspect, slope, and distance to city centers. Fire frequency and burned area were nonlinearly related to FWI: 73% of the 99 fires occurred during weeks with FWI values ≥ 90 even though these accounted for only 44% of all weeks. Burned area was even more sensitive to FWI since 97% of total burned area occurred during weeks with mean FWI values ≥ 90. All days with burned areas > 100 ha had FWI values > 150. The study demonstrated that WUI legislation can be an efficient tool to limit WUI fire risk. FWI results suggest the predicted increase in extreme summer heat events with global warming could increase burned area as firefighting resources are stretched beyond capacity.

Science of The Total Environment, Vol. 621 (April 2018), pp. 120-129, 
Key: INRMM:14570564



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